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AP Automation ROI: 7 Reasons Why RPA Fails

Robotic process automation (RPA) holds immense promise for accounts payable teams, especially for front-line processes that are vital but mechanically tedious. Few other departments manage so many workflows that require manual handling and human intervention. By using the RPA framework and process discovery, it’ is possible to streamline back-office operations in multiple ways. The benefits of RPA for AP can include better accuracy, improved employee job satisfaction and more time to devote to critical tasks that must remain manual.

However, not every RPA project deployed in AP yields the expected ROI or the anticipated improvements. What are some of the reasons why RPA fails in these applications? Sometimes we can relate it to a mismatch between what RPA can do and what the team needs, while other times, a process failure leads to a poor deployment. In this article, we’ll look at the seven main reasons why RPA fails and consider a few of the ways businesses can make smarter investments in automation. Topics include:

The Most Common Barriers to RPA Success

The potential to tap into the many benefits of robotic process automation can create an eagerness to proceed. Reducing costly human errors, decreasing friction between systems and de-siloing critical data are all possibilities within reach with a well-deployed project. However, if you aren’t careful, there are issues that can undermine your efforts.

1. Automation Clashes with the Company’s Culture

It’s easy to see the benefits of automation from a broad perspective, but it doesn’t always click with an AP department’s existing culture. Management often understands why RPA is a worthwhile investment but fails to communicate those benefits to those whose work it will impact. It’s not unusual to still hear employees express concerns about having their positions made redundant by introducing software robots. While that narrative has begun to fade, it isn't gone yet.

If you don’t bring the right teams on board and explain to employees what RPA is, your project will struggle to achieve the adoption it needs.

2. Misunderstood or Misguided Expectations

RPA is a powerful technology, but it has its limitations. Over-promising and under-delivering is another major reason why automation projects flounder and fail to advance from the starting gate. It is important to be realistic about what RPA can achieve within the organization. Because it often involves unseen or overlooked processes, the immediate results might not always be clear.

3. Starting Without Defining Success

What does a successful automation project look like six months after deployment? How will you know if things still function effectively a year or two from today? Defining clear success criteria and building a long-term plan for maintenance and scale are must-dos, but many projects begin without any sense of their destination. That leads to wasted time and money alongside an automation system that never achieves its full potential.

4. Missing Opportunities to Customize RPA Operations

RPA is not always an “out of the box” technology that’s ready to work as soon as you have the appropriate software installed. The true value of RPA lies in its flexibility — businesses can build and maintain robots that operate within their specific virtual ecosystem. Overlooking the opportunity to connect legacy systems with proprietary AP software can lead to limited and insignificant impact on operations.

5. A Lack of Appropriate Development Oversight

RPA creates exciting opportunities for the use of “citizen developers,” especially in low- and no-code environments. However, RPA projects can easily fail if these tools don’t have professional and experienced oversight guiding their use. RPA is at its most valuable when used for longer sequences of actions. If the only steps undergoing automation are individual employee processes that vary from desk to desk, the project won’t achieve the ROI demanded by key stakeholders.

6. Trying to Automate Processes That Are Too Complex

Don’t try to force RPA to do a job meant for more advanced AI/machine learning (ML)-powered tools. Recall that RPA works best in standardized processes you can define step by step and whose workflows rarely, if ever, change. Attempting to undertake a massive, system-wide automation effort with RPA alone will quickly reveal the technological mismatch at play. While it has many use cases, there are also many occasions when you must know when not to use RPA.

7. Deploying RPA on UIs That Often Change

It’s easy enough for a human to notice when a software update changes the position of an icon or moves the location of a menu item. RPA robots are blind to these changes and when the software they’ve been trained on, changes, the automation sequence breaks. Use RPA in applications where there is a great deal of consistency in application design. When UIs do change, automation teams need to stay on top of upgrades and re-training. Otherwise, automated workflows can become a bottleneck of their own.

A lack of access to the right framework is another key factor that can undermine the value and success of an automation program. Choosing the right platform is essential not only for today but for a future in which your organization may expand its efforts to encompass the growing umbrella of intelligent automation technologies. With Kofax Robotic Process Automation, businesses gain access to an easily-deployed and intelligent system that sets the stage for short- and long-term wins that yield real results for your business.

Giving RPA Projects a Better Chance for Success

Despite the many opportunities to encounter frustrating RPA experiences, this technology still holds immense value for the AP team that wants to invest in automation. The right strategy and approach to execution can make RPA a valuable part of your day-to-day work. What are three key efforts to keep in mind from a big picture perspective about RPA?

Plan Thoroughly and Involve Key Stakeholders

Just like introducing any new technology or tool into your business processes, a clear and well-defined roadmap is essential for your success. Before hiring automation engineers or investing in RPA development, consider your goals and define clear criteria for evaluating the project as it proceeds. Involve employees affected by the project at all levels and build a consensus to move forward.

Choose the Right Processes to Automate

Be realistic about what RPA can achieve in your organization. Interview employees in the AP department to determine what steps constrain efficiency. Build out process charts that make it easy to see how software robots working alongside humans could change the workflow. Only invest in automating the most stable and repeatable processes and consider how they will factor into your overall strategy for intelligent automation.

Integrate RPA Into a Broader Strategy

Don’t overlook the rising importance of AI and machine learning. Accounts payable especially is in the perfect position to take advantage of advanced intelligent automation, of which RPA is only one small part. Create a road map that ultimately involves integrating RPA into other intelligent process automation technologies, such as cognitive document intelligence tools and more.

Navigating Around Potential Problems With RPA

With the increasing complexity of business systems, it is often impossible for any one person to have a clear view of how everything interconnects within a company. A thoughtful RPA deployment can help make those connections visible to the entire organization, not only speeding up daily tasks but laying the groundwork for more advanced automation in the future.

While there are many reasons why RPA fails, it is important not to let those potential pitfalls hold back the march towards the future of work. By knowing what errors to avoid and choosing a platform built for business from the ground up, your business can automate effectively and unlock its benefits.

Learn more about the next steps today.

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